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Oh, the many things you can do with spent grains

January 30, 2012

Making beer is a lot like making tea. Except when you’re finished making tea, you drink the tea and throw out the leaves. When you’re finished with the first step of making beer, you put the brew in a giant bucket and throw away a massive glob of wet grains.

Or do you?

It’s a shame to toss all those delicious-smelling grains that you carefully chose to make a delicious brew. Some people compost them, although some people have had bad experiences with how that turns out in the compost pile. Clearly the only sensible thing to do is eat them and all the protein and fiber goodness they have to offer. And if you haven’t tried homebrewing, this is just a bonus reason. It also means you can share your brew with your kids, since this is before the alcohol enters the picture. If you’re not ready to use them all (and how could you?!) as soon as the brew leaves the stove, you can refrigerate them for a day or two or freeze them for longer.

This weekend we got to work on making a Brooklyn Chocolate Stout clone, which I hope will be delicious in a few months. Meanwhile we’re getting a taste of the grains. First I put them into a bread. I tried two recipes. “Recipes,” I say. Bread is one of those things where I was always afraid to go off-recipe. But hey, when you’re already going crazy and throwing a pile of globby, wet beer makings in, who needs a recipe? This is also why the first loaf was a dense, brown blob. A reasonably tasty blob, but nothing I wanted to repeat. The second loaf, however, was sweet deliciousness. Here’s how it goes:

  • 2.5 cups bread flour
  • 1/2 cup grain (run them through a food processor or spice grinder first)
  • 3/8 cup sugar
  • 2.25 tsp yeast (that’s one packet, regular, not fast-rise)
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup(ish) water

Put it all in a stand mixer, and let your dough hook do the work. You don’t even have to bother activating the yeast first unless you need to see if it’s good. Let the dough rise for an hour to 90 minutes, then bake at 400 for about 45 minutes. If you’re actually good at this bread-making thing, feel free to punch down and knead all you want. That’s a lot of work, so I didn’t, and it was still tasty. Bread blasphemy! Basic notes so you can wing it:

– Bread wants to rise at about 78 degrees. That’s why you’re usually advised to add water around 110 degrees, since the cooler flour will bring that down. However, depending on whether you’ve just taken the grains off the stove or gotten them out of the freezer, your temperature is going to be wildly different. Use a thermometer and adjust accordingly.

– Wet dough is good dough, but too wet is just a mess. Add 3/4 cup at first, then the rest if you need to. I went a little overboard with the water and had to add some flour.

– That’s a lot of sugar, so it comes out pretty sweet. I thought it was delicious, but you’re welcome to cut that back. What type of beer you’re making will affect things too. This one has a lot of chocolate and dark grains in it, and the bread came out quite dark. (My two-year-old thought it was chocolate!) I thought the sugar was a nice complement to that, but it might not be as tasty with a hoppier brew.

Of course, you can only make so much bread. So what else is there to do with all those grains? Burgers. That’s right. Burgers. I came across this suggestion on a message board, and since I’ll try anything once, into the beef went the grains. I picked up a hunk of beef (round, to be specific), and my husband put it through the grinder with some of the grains. I didn’t get a chance to tell him to put the grains through the food processor first, and you’d never know. The meat grinder took care of that just fine. Then we added an espresso/brown sugar rub. A 3:1 ratio of espresso to sugar works great. These were among the most delicious burgers we’ve ever made.

Need some more ideas? Here are a few recipes I’m planning to try. Add your own suggestions in the comments.

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